The use of coal vs. natural gas for generating electricity presents a problem for the states like Pennsylvania with an abundance of both coal and natural gas. Do electric utility companies convert generating plants to burn cleaner and cheaper natural gas or install expensive pollution abatement equipment to meet Clean Air Act mandates?
Coal fired electric generating plants are a major source of greenhouse gases and the primary source of human caused mercury pollution in the US. The Harvard Medical School has estimated the annual health and environmental cost of burning coal for electricity of up to $423 billion in the US. Conversely natural gas fired generating plants produce 1/2 the carbon dioxide, 1/3 the nitrogen oxides, 1% of the sulfur oxides and 1% of the mercury of coal fired plants. In addition transportation costs via pipelines are less and there are no fly ash disposals or concerns.
With the newly developed abundance of natural gas it makes little economic sense to install expensive pollution controls on old coal fired plants or even build new ones. Undoubtedly, as old coal plants are closed and coal mining diminishes, people will lose their jobs. However, it is simple capitalism and not a "war on coal" like Republicans would like people to believe.
Submitted by Virtual Newsroom